Personal Jurisdiction

One of the mistakes that prospective plaintiffs make is in thinking that they can sue their defendant in any state they choose. But under a case called International Shoe Co. v. Washington, 326 U.S. 310, 316, 66 S.Ct. 154, 158 (1945), the defendant must have "minimum contacts" with a state before he can be sued there.

The Importance of the Personal Jurisdiction Question

Frequently, the entire litigation turns on whether the defendant can be sued in a particular state in the U.S. For example, the Firm represents importers who want to sue suppliers in China who sold them defective goods. If the suppliers can't be sued in one of the states in the U.S., it means suing them in China. And as a practical matter, that's not a meaningful form of redress: there's no assurance that the courts in China are fair, and the Chinese courts won't award meaningful damages. Thus, as a practical matter, the entire litigation turns on whether the Chinese company can be sued in one of the states in the U.S.

Transactional Jurisdiction

The Firm only practices in New York, so the following discussion is limited to suing someone in New York. But the laws of the other forty-nine states won't be radically different.

To sue someone in New York, there are two ways of establishing the minimum contacts. One way is to establish something called "transactional jurisdiction". That means that if the defendant did something in New York, you can sue him for a claim arising out of that conduct, but not for a claim that doesn't arise out of that conduct.

So, for instance, if the defendant came to New York to negotiate a contract, you can sue him for breach of contract. But if he also assaulted you in another state, you can't sue him for the assault because that claim doesn't arise out of his visit to New York.

There are a variety of acts that will render a defendant amenable to suit in New York. For example: 1) contracting anywhere to supply goods or services in the state; 2) committing a tortious act within the state (e.g., an assault, an act of fraud, a breach of fiduciary duty); 3) committing a tortious act outside of the state that causes injury inside of New York; 4) the ownership or use of real property within New York.

Doing Business Jurisdiction

In addition, you can sue someone in New York for any cause of action-- whether related to his conduct in New York or not-- if that defendant is "doing business" in New York. To be doing business in New York, the defendant must be engaged in a systematic and continuous course of conduct in New York.

A good example, is a basketball team that is based outside of New York, but which must come to New York to play certain games. Those visits are not isolated or sporadic or even voluntary. The visits are systematic and continuous because the basketball team can't satisfy the league rules without playing the games in New York. Thus, it possible to sue the basketball team in New York for any cause of action.

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